At Home With Vivian: Just a Routine

Labor Day has come and gone. The kids are back in school. Summer (even though the autumnal equinox isn’t until September 23) is over. Summers are fun and exciting, but there’s something about getting back to a predictable routine that’s comforting, especially to kids. Kids thrive on routine. I know. I was one of those kids.

My widowed mother went to work and we kids went to school. Our home life revolved around set schedules. During the week homework was finished after dinner and dishes were done. On Saturday mornings we went to the laundromat and then worked in the yard. Sundays we went to church, stopped for donuts, and then dropped in on relatives. Ed Sullivan was on every Sunday night. Dinner was always at 5:30, seven days a week. Any free time was spent outdoors playing with the neighborhood kids.

Summers were less predictable. Mama worked, my kid sister and I went to babysitters (until I was old enough to be the babysitter). We lived in West Pittsburg then and our sitters were a retired couple who lived a few blocks from us. After second and third grades I went to summer school. ‘Back in the day’, summer school was free and fun. A Mount Diablo School District bus picked me up at Ambrose Elementary school and drove me to a Concord school for classes. I took art and music and loved it. My afternoons at the sitters’ were spent looking for other kids to play with, badgering my sister, day dreaming, or reading books. Mama picked Johnette and me up after work and dinner was on the table by 5:30pm.

One late summer weekend, when I was eight, Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Bill visited. I don’t know if it was on a whim that they took me or if it was planned ahead of time, but I went back to Pine Grove with them for a week. I was excited to go. I had never been on a vacation! I have a few distinct memories from that week.

We didn’t get to Uncle Bill’s house until after 7pm and by the time dinner was cooked it was nearly 9pm. I must have been a total brat about the late meal. I remember hanging out in the kitchen waiting for dinner, pestering them, I’m sure. I saw the frustration on the grown-ups faces every time I asked, but my stomach hurt. We had steak and baked potatoes for dinner and I should have been happy for such a nice meal. But I was not happy and was not as grateful as I should have been. That’s all I remember except that Uncle Bill poured tons of pepper on his steak. I never saw so much pepper!

To my chagrin, dinner came at a different time each night. I wasn’t even offered a snack to hold me over. It was the first time in my life I realized what being hungry felt like. I still don’t like that feeling.

While in Pine Grove, a teenaged neighbor girl came to the house every afternoon and walked me down to the community pool. I was a good swimmer so I was allowed to play anywhere in the pool. I amused myself by dropping things in the deep end and going down to find it. Sometimes there would be a kid close to my age to play with. The teenager was pretty useless as a playmate. She flirted with the lifeguard most of the time. So, I was bored to death most days. Aunt Dorothy gave the teenager some money and I was allowed to buy a treat. I bought a Payday candy bar every day. I would first eat all of the peanuts, and then I’d take a bite of the chewy center and suck on it until it melted in my mouth. Then I’d have another bite. I could make that candy bar last a long time! To this day whenever I eat a Payday candy bar, memories of afternoons in that pool come rushing back.

I wasn’t allowed to play outside at Uncle Bill’s house much. They didn’t have a fenced in yard yet as the house was new and there wasn’t any grass under the pine trees. When I did go outside, I came back in quite dirty. Aunt Dorothy did not like dirt.

The day Mama came to pick me up she told me to take Johnette outside and play so she could visit with Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Bill. Well, I took up the suggestion with relish! We walked all over the block, behind the houses, up and down the hills. We picked up pine cones and rocks and chased lizards. Just as we were called in for lunch, I spotted some wild bushy plants with colorful leaves. I broke off a couple of small branches and walked happily into the house carrying a big bouquet of pretty red and yellow leaves for Aunt Dorothy. Ever heard the phrase “Leaves of three let them be”?

Well, it took my mother a nanosecond to see that my beautiful bouquet was made of poison oak. She made me throw the gorgeous leaves out into the yard and quick as a whistle, Johnette and I were sitting in the bathtub. Guess those pretty leaves weren’t so great after all! I’ve never mistaken poison oak for anything but poison oak since. Knock on wood; no one got a poison oak rash that day.

Before we left Pine Grove, my mother asked me how I liked my vacation. I was polite and told everyone that I had a nice time. I remembered my manners and thanked Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Bill for having me.

But when we got in the car, I told my mother the truth. I tattled in the car on the way home about the late dinners, and being stuck at the pool for three hours every afternoon. I was quite indignant about the whole thing. Mom tried to explain that people have different lifestyles, but I wasn’t buying it. I didn’t want to go back, which was a good thing because I wasn’t invited again. I really must have been a little monster! I can laugh about that summer vacation now, especially since I’ve since had many happy times with my aunt and uncle since then.

Labor Day has come and gone. The kids are back in school. Summer is over. The holidays are just around the corner. Back to the old routine….

No. Wait. We live in California! We still have several weeks of wonderful weather coming! Woo hoo! Best of both worlds – summer fun and dinner on the table at the same time every night!

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